I sometimes think I like eating out in restaurants so much because I have worked in many restaurants, and know what goes on behind the scenes. Some would argue that knowing what goes on in restaurant kitchens might make you less likely to love eating out, but I just don't think about the less savory aspects of that knowledge.* What I focus on is the unrelenting shittiness of restaurant work, and how much you need the camaraderie of your co-workers just to get by.
Which is where Stewart O'Nan's lovely little 146-page novel Last Night at the Lobster comes in. It's exactly what its title proclaims it: the chronicle of the day's events at a Red Lobster restaurant that has been slated for closure. Also part of the story is Manny's (the manager's) affair with Jacquie, one of his servers, and how that affair is over, as Manny's girlfriend is pregnant and Jacquie is staying with her boyfriend. That story was done well. But the real glory here is Manny, and his somewhat endearing hope that he and his staff have one last good night.
"Walking along the line, he passes his hand like a magician over the Frialators and the grill to make sure they're off. The ice machine's on and full--good. He crosses to the time clock and punches in before he hangs up his jacket, checks to make sure the safe is secure, then pushes through the swinging door to the dining room.
It's dusk in here, rays of soft light sneaking around the blinds, picking out a glossy tabletop, a brass rail, the sails of a model schooner. By the main wait station, a point-of-sale screen glows, a square of royal blue. He hesitates at the switches, appreciating the dimness." (p. 5.)
That's just perfect.** At times Manny seemed a little too good to be true (he seemed to be a hard worker who cared about both the company bottom line and his employees, which is a rare combination in managers, I've found) but that was okay with me. It's a great little novel.
*Yes, I've seen kitchen staff spit in food. If you ask me if I have I'll take the fifth. I will say this: usually people who evoke this kind of behavior really, really deserve it. I mean REALLY deserve it. Restaurant staff are busy, after all, and don't always have time to exact retribution. So just don't actively try to piss off your server and you'll be fine.
**The cover is perfect too. It doesn't show up well here, but it's a beautiful cover.